It may seem strange to hear a learned man like Jeremiah Wright make the claim that AIDS was created by the government, but it’s not an obscure belief among the black intelligentsia worldwide. Wangari Maathai, the first African woman to win a Nobel Prize, asks, “Why has there been so much secrecy about AIDS? When you ask where did the virus come from, it raises a lot of flags. That makes me suspicious.” It has been reported that she went further than this and said it was “deliberately created by Western scientists to decimate the African population,” but she denies saying this. But she did say this: “I have no idea who created AIDS and whether it is a biological agent or not. But I do know things like that don’t come from the moon. I have always thought that it is important to tell people the truth, but I guess there is some truth that must not be too exposed.” Asked to clarify she said, “I’m referring to AIDS. I am sure people know where it came from. And I’m quite sure it did not come from the monkeys.” Under pressure, she backtracked from this statement, saying she was misunderstood, but it doesn’t seem that she could have meant something different than what is implied.
In 2005, a survey by the Rand Corporation found that half of all American blacks surveyed reported that they believe AIDS is man-made, one-quarter believe it was created in a government laboratory, and sixteen percent believe it was created to reduce the black population. Where do such ideas come from? One possible source is the juxtaposition of two facts that occurred in 1969 in the halls of our own government. In July, 1969, George H. W. Bush, US Representative from Texas, gave a major speech on the need to control population growth in the Third World. It was one of many he gave on the subject. He was so obsessed with population control, in fact, that his colleagues nicknamed him “Mr. Rubbers.” A few days later, the Department of Defense requested ten million dollars from Congress to fund the development of a “synthetic biological agent, an agent that does not naturally exist and for which no natural immunity could have been acquired.” The following conversation is from the Congressional Record, the event a hearing over the Department of Defense appropriation request (HB-15090) for budget year 1970. Here is the Pentagon’s Dr. Donald MacArthur telling Congressman Robert Sikes of the need for a “synthetic biological agent”:
Dr. MacArthur: There are two things about the biological agent field I would like to mention. One is the possibility of technological surprise. Molecular biology is a field that is advancing very rapidly and eminent biologists believe that within a period of 5 to 10 years it would be possible to produce a synthetic biological agent, an agent that does not naturally exist and for which no natural immunity could have been acquired.
Mr. Sikes. Are we doing any work in that field?
Dr. MacArthur. We are not.
Mr. Sikes. Why not? Lack of money or lack of interest?
Dr. MacArthur. Certainly not lack of interest.
Mr. Sikes. Would you provide for our records information on what would be required, what the advantages of such a program would be. the time and the cost involved?
Dr. MacArthur. We will be very happy to. The dramatic progress being made in the field of molecular biology led us to investigate the relevance of this field of science to biological warfare. A small group of experts considered this matter and provided the following observations: 1. All biological agents up the present time are representatives of naturally occurring disease, and are thus known by scientists throughout the world. They are easily available to qualified scientists for research, either for offensive or defensive purposes. 2. Within the next 5 to 10 years, it would probably be possible to make a new infective microorganism which could differ in certain important aspects from any known disease-causing organisms. Most important of these is that it might be refractory to the immunological and therapeutic processes upon when we depend to maintain our relative freedom from infectious disease. 3. A research program to explore the feasibility of this could be completed in approximately five years at a total cost of $10 million. 4. It would be very difficult to establish such a program. Molecular biology is a relatively new science. There are not many highly competent scientists in the field., almost all are in university laboratories, and they are generally adequately supported from sources other than DOD. However, it was considered possible to initiate an adequate program through the National Academy of sciences-National Research Council (NAS-NRC), and tentative plans were made to initiate the program. However decreasing funds in CB, growing criticism of the CB program., and our reluctance to involve the NAS-NRC in such a controversial endeavor have led us to postpone it for the past two years. It is a highly controversial issue and there are many who believe such research should not be undertaken lest it lead to yet another method of massive killing of large populations. On the other hand, without the sure scientific knowledge that such a weapon is possible, and an understanding of the ways it could be done. there is little that can be done to devise defensive measures. Should an enemy develop it there is little doubt that this is an important area of potential military technological inferiority in which there is no adequate research program.Source: Department of Defense Appropriations for 1970. United States Senate Library. Hearings before a Subcommitee of the Committee on Appropriations. House of Representatives. Ninety-First Congress. First Session. Subcommittee on Department of Defense. Printed for the use of the Committee on Appropriations. US Government Printing Office. Washington: 1969. Tuseday, July 1, 1969. Synthetic Biological Agents.
Of course none of this proves the government created AIDS. What it does show, however, is that the military and political operatives at the highest levels of the US government were interested in a program which could produce a AIDS-like virus for the purposes of biological warfare and that experts believed that such a virus could be produced in 5 to 10 years. That in itself is something, and when some people hear this, recall that AIDS emerged in the early 1980s, then do a little math—well, it seems to fit the time line, doesn’t it?
Most white people will never have heard of this theory. For most whites who have heard this, they won’t make the connection—they will see it as a coincidence (not all, of course, e.g., composer Frank Zappa, who believed AIDS was created to kill blacks and gays, wrote a famous play satirizing it called Thing Fish). But among blacks, a relatively smaller proportion of the population than whites, linked together through a tight network of black churches and other civic organizations, many will have heard of it. So, when black people hear this, they have a different reaction than whites. They make the connection. And this is because of their history.
Black people remember all too well that the United States government conducted syphilis experiments at the Tuskegee Institute on black men from the 1930s through the 1970s, an experiment that violated the Nuremberg Code, the rules governing the punishment of Nazi doctors who engaged in medical experiments. The Nazi doctors were hanged until dead. Yet nothing happened to the Tuskegee doctors. Moreover, blacks know the government dumps toxins on their communities, locates landfills in their neighborhoods, and keeps blacks in the dark about working conditions that make them sick. Combine this with vast disparities in health care services and outcomes for blacks, and experience and context make it easy to believe that the government would do something like create a virus that targets undesirable populations.
When Jeremiah Wright was confronted with what he had said during his April 2008 National Press Club appearance, he asked the media in attendance, “Have you read Medical Apartheid” (I have, by the way, and it’s excellent and extremely important work by Harriet Washington, the full title: Medical Apartheid: The Dark History of Medical Experimentation on Black Americans from Colonial Times to the Present). Wright said, “Based on the Tuskegee experiment and based on what has happened to Africans in this country, I believe our government is capable of doing anything.” (Much of the theory about government involvement in the creation of AIDS comes from the work of Boyd Graves, who argues that AIDS is associated with the US Special Virus Program (1962-1978). Related to this is the work of Dr. Alan Cantwell.)
While it may not be true that the government created AIDS, it’s no stretch of the imagination to suppose that it may be true (majorities believe much stranger things than this). There are lots of things that sound bizarre that turn out to be true upon careful investigation. The Tuskegee syphilis experiment seems hard to believe, but it’s true. Forced sterilization programs in the US, Canada, Great Britain, and Scandinavia, responsible for the surgical mutilation of tens, possibly hundreds of thousands of human beings sounds like a fantastic story. But it’s for real. The Holocaust—the systematic murder of millions of human beings in an efficient bureaucratic death machine—seems farfetched, almost impossible, but it really happened. Millions of people were taken from their homes, herded into death camps, killed with bullets and poison gas, their bodies burnt to ash in networks of crematoria.
To suppose that such things are impossible risks permitting terrible things to happen again and on-going atrocities to continue. The scientific mind remains open to possibility. What some people call conspiracy theories, others see as bold conjecture or working hypotheses. Wrights error, in my view, is in stating a hypothesis as fact. But then millions of brothers and sisters do the same thing. They may have jumped the gun. But that doesn’t make them crazy. Nor does it warrant a dismissive attitude from others.